DAN NEIL'S BREAKDOWN OF TEXAS-RICE: THE MENTAL GAME

This season here on HornsDigest, DAN NEIL, a Longhorns' All-American offensive lineman and two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos (1997 & 1998) while blocking for John Elway and 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis, is breaking down game film and telling you what he sees.

Be sure to check out Dan Neil on LHN's "Upon Further Review" on Monday nights at 6 pm CT.

Here's what stood out to Dan after cutting up film of Saturday night's 42-28 victory over Rice:

 

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When I was drafted by the Broncos in 1997 I had full confidence that I was going to be a successful NFL football player. 

I knew I had to earn it and work hard to make it, but that has never been a problem for me and I was excited to get out there and show what I could do. 

Alex Gibbs, my offensive line coach in Denver, had a doctorate in psychology, and he liked to use it. 

He was a master of the mental game.

I was never really yelled at much in high school or college, because I was always pretty coachable. 

If you told me to do something, I'd go do it. 

It might take a few snaps, and there were some mistakes made. But eventually, I would get it done correctly.  

With Alex, I was never right.  Even if I was right, I was wrong. 

I would do the same thing the older guys would do, and I would still get yelled at for being wrong. 

I'm a pleaser, and I could not make this guy happy. 

It got worse and worse through my first season. I never played, and we were a Super Bowl championship team. So, no one really noticed my confidence fading away. 

I came back the next year and felt pretty confident.  The starting right guard had left in free agency, and I was the guy they wanted to start in his spot.

The only thing stopping me was the empty space between my ears. 

 

I wanted to believe I was year older, a year wiser and a year mentally tougher. But when we went to camp and Alex picked up where he left off, I began to realize I didn't believe in myself anymore.

Alex had broken me down, and I had lost all confidence. I was falling apart.

I remember walking off the field after a preseason game thinking I might be able to find a job in arena football.  I was sure my NFL career was over. 

I was trying so hard to please Alex that I was trying to be perfect and could not relax and play.

The next game, I went out on the field for my first series and got run over the first three plays. 

Alex meets me at the hash marks and a few players were next to him to see if he was going to physically assault me. 

I went and sat on the bench and was totally broken. At that point, I was a terrible football player. 

I sat there and had an epiphany. I could either keep doing what I was doing and be cut tomorrow. Or I could just relax and go play football.  I knew I had nothing to lose at that point. 

I went out the next series and might have had the best half of football of my life. The rest is history. 

What changed? 

My mental state.

I have seen many good players become terrible players because of what was going on between their ears.  Confidence is a fragile thing. If you want to win, you have to believe you can win. 

You can’t fake it. You have to really believe it. 

Why do some teams always win? 

They win because they expect to and believe they are going to no matter what happens in the game. 

When they do lose they watch film and realize they lost because of their mistakes and not the opponent.  That’s why New England never loses.

I tell this story because I think it is relevant for Texas right now.  

 

This is a team with a fragile mental state. 

 

When was the last time Texas has won a big game? 

Do you think - deep down - this team really believes it can beat any team it plays?  How can they look so bad against Notre Dame and then make so many big plays against Rice? 

Something had to change to alter the mental state of this team. 

Charlie Strong decided to change the offensive play caller and quarterback.  Those small changes and some early success in the game changed the mental state of his team. 

The players knew something was different, and it was working. 

 

I think this team began to believe it could win again after the first touchdown. 

 

If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

This is why I am always talking about the attitude of the offensive line. 

These are the guys who have to be tough.  Their job is to make everyone else look great.  The five guys have to learn to work as one unit - together on almost every play. 

As coach Watson used to say, “I want five guys playing for me who I would also want in an alley late at night with me.”

What jumped out at me was the effort of this offensive line. 

I saw almost every blocker on that field finish a block during which they drove their guy into the ground.  

 

Physical tough blocking starts with running the ball and an attitude. 

 

This is the biggest difference from last year. 

The front is starting to play like one unit working together.  They are getting movement on double teams and climbing to the linebackers.

There are still areas of concern, but I see effort form everyone playing right now.

 

Here are my thoughts on the O-line versus Rice:

 

* LT Connor Williams - He was the star last week, and he is still their best player on offense. 

Great feet and plays hard.  There is one play in the game where the running back chips the defensive end, and the defensive end falls down.  

The defensive end tries to get up and Williams drives him back into the turf.

You don’t coach things like that.  You either do them or you don’t. 

 

* RG Patrick Vahe - Vahe got to play the kind of game he wants to play. 

He got to run block.  He is a much better run blocker and does not have the light feet to be a great pass blocker right now. 

Vahe is more of a guy who is going one direction and nothing is going to stop him.  At one point in the game, he climbs to the linebacker and plants him in the turf. 

If I can say Vahe’s play was better this week than last week  - every week - this season, Texas will be a good team at the end of the year.

 

* RT Kent Perkins - Perkins did a better job in his pass protection.

I have felt his biggest struggle is getting depth in pass protection.  He seems to be getting back better and is in position to block the speed rushers off the edge.

Perkins is starting to get a feel for run blocking.  He even tried to cut the backside end - something Wickline wants him to do.

 

* C Taylor Doyle and LG Sed Flowers - Their biggest challenges are their feet.  Footwork is a crucial part of playing the offensive line. 

You need to be balanced and able to get your feet up and down quickly.  Short choppy steps to keep yourself balanced. 

When you see guys falling down or not getting movement it is because their feet are out of position. 

Doyle and Flowers need to improve their footwork.  Both play hard and give full effort.

You can win a few games with full effort, but you have to always be looking at what I can do to get better. 

 

If the mental state of this football team continues to improve and these players start to believe in what they are capable of doing, I know Texas will beat Baylor this year!

 

 


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